War and Peace Pt. 1: “I Can Hear Those Fighter Planes”

I can hear those fighter planes,
Yes I can hear those fighter planes.

Across the mud huts where the children sleep,
Down into the valley and quiet city streets.

We take the staircase to the first floor,
We turn the key and slowly unlock the door.

A man breathes into saxophone,
And Through the walls we hear the city groan.

Outside is America. Outside is America….

…I feel a long way from the hills of San Salvador where the sky is ripped open and the rain pours through a gaping wound, pelting the women and children, pelting the women and children run, run in to the arms of America.

-Bono from U2 in “Bullet the Blue Sky”

I just put my daughter down to let her nurse with her mom to fall asleep for the night.

I woke up this morning to images of children in Douma, Syria suffocating from the latest of atrocities in that neighborhood.

What if instead of seeing the sleepy, relaxed joy inside my daughter’s eyes tonight, I saw the struggle for the final moments of life while toxic gas choked out her ability to breathe?

I can barely write those words for the pain that comes with those mental images.

I can shutter away and try not to think, but my neighbors in Syria cannot. Their plight is one that has persisted the entirety of human existence. For them, this is real life.

So I want to pose the daring, dangerous question,

“Is there another way than endless cycles of violence?”

Or to put it anther way, in the words of the famous peacemaker St. Paul I ask in the name of the human race,

“Who can deliver me from this body of death?”

St. Paul wrote these words to his brothers and sisters in Rome where the punishment for murder was to physically carry the corpse of one’s victim strapped to his/her back. Paul too felt like a man carrying around his “dark side” destined to haunt him for the rest of his days.

Today, I relate.

I consider those children, men, and women dying once again at the hands of a twisted government and I wonder, who can deliver me from this body of death. Their memories and their plight strapped to me like the victims of my own complacency.

If I was in Douma this morning, I would wonder why no one cares about me? Why no one cares about my innocent daughter? How did my neighborhood turn into hell?  Why are we alone to suffer?

Then the tweet from the highest offices of government in America runs across the internet,

“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big Price to pay.”

This on the heels of an uncertain future regarding the growing few thousand American Service Members slowly creeping into Syria.

Such visceral images usually illicit strong, bellicose reactions. It seems almost as human as crying or laughing to want retaliation, tit for tat, eye for eye. The only way to keep the world in check is to stop evil, with violence if necessary, right? Isn’t that how it works, isn’t that how this country works? If we don’t do something, then what?

I fear, however, that those of us not in Syria, especially here in the states grinding away at our own livelihood, don’t really care much about justice for Syrians.

I’m not sure how we could while we actively labor to shut our borders from refugees of war–like the ones in Syria. To date, this country has only allowed 44 Syrian refugees to settle here this year. I’m not sure how we could think we care about Syrians while we continue to spend our money on material possessions and neglect the needs of these desperate people. I’m not sure how we can say with a straight face that we actually care as a country, when we stand to profit so much from entering into another endless conflict in the Middle-East.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, the county’s largest defense contractor, earned a personal salary of $20.6 million last year.

The war business is good.

We’ve been at war continuously since 2001, and only at peace in this country for less than 20 of our 239 year existence. Our greatest export is violence. The Department of Defense the largest employer in the WORLD.

Real quick, this means that more human energy and labour is spent on the American Military Industrial Complex than anything else.

The truth about our world, is that evil is not able to exist unless their is a strong and well developed code of morality that allows it to thrive. Like the one we have here in the States. It’s why words like, “Big Price” are actually frightening, double-sided, and potentially devastating.

History has shown us that genuine love for neighbor is making oneself utterly vulnerable in the name of solidarity. It’s touching the untouchables, starving with the starving, dying with the dying. Somehow, it’s also loving the evil, violent, and dangerous.

It’s why Jesus on the cross isn’t a way of saving a few people from an angry God, it’s a model for how to set the world right. You take the blows of the cycle of violence. You stop the downward descent into mutually assured destruction by not transmitting it any farther. If the violence stops with you, it can no longer touch those for who it was intended.

Two days ago, a radicalized man in Germany drove a car into a crowd of people in the name of his twisted worldview. Germany quietly mourned, picked up the pieces, and carried on about their business. It hardly received press. They have their own struggle with immigration, a radical right, and religious radicalization as many countries face in the EU. Without knowing it, though, this week they accepted and killed off an arm of violence in the world.

I learned at West Point that terrorism derives its power from its ability to illicit bellicose and violent reactions from enemies that are unequally matched. The purpose of 9/11 for example wasn’t the incident itself, but the longest war in American history that came right after. That’s terrorism at its most successful.

When we choose not to retaliate, we quietly and humbly put a piece of the world back together. When we chose to die because we must suffer with the suffering, or because we can see the humanity and potential and divine spark in our enemy’s eyes, we are choosing something different.

We become a seed of change that sprouts into a mighty oak in the forest of eternal peace.

In America, the people via their House of Representatives has completely abdicated their role in preventing war. By doing so we have made ourselves utterly complicit in the destabilization and evil that persists in the Middle East. When it comes to a leader resorting to violence to maintain control over his land as is the case in Syria, we have to  recognize our part in that. The destabilization that began with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan has a part to play the Syria’s suffering.

After 9/11, congress temporarily authorized what is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF. This new doctrine was liberally mixed with the War Powers Act of the Constitution. This political cocktail was supposedly created in the name of allowing the Executive to temporarily consolidate power to make responding to 9/11 simpler.

This act gave the Executive unilateral power to deploy the American Military. Mind you, I’m in the process of getting out of the Army for issues of good conscience, but this military force is unparalleled in its raw, destructive potential in the history of mankind. This power was formally abdicated by Congress in 2001 and never returned.

At the moment, one man has the ability to deploy, commit, and direct the most powerful military-inustrial complex in the history of the world. This isn’t a personal attack against any one president either, because this has now persisted through 3 presidents, some multiple terms. Furthermore, the largest lobbyist and contractors in America stand to profit from another endless and public war in Syria.

“Big Price” might have a double-meaning in this case. Many in this country are standing to profit (remember that $20.6 million a year salary) if our Executive can get angry enough to send troops. Of course, this response would look like more violence, chaos, destabilization, and innocent death in Syria more than redemption.

I desperately want to offer the people of Syria something other than more death!

And so I ask, who is foolish enough to leave it all behind and go die with the dying? To go starve with the starving, to love the evil in spite of their evil, to serve the malnourished and forgotten.

Maybe, to go to the evil one’s house for dinner as Jesus did to Zaccheaus? (more on that later.)

Tonight I meditate and remember the most radical and unexplored ethic of human consciousness,

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What if we became an incarnate prayer for victims of war? Instead of hating the evil ones and contributing to more violence, what if we incarnated the solidarity of Jesus on the Cross? What if we let go once and for all that somehow more bombs, more planes, more radar systems and soldiers could do anything other than cause suffering of the innocent while profiting the companies that make them.

What if we stopped funding and working for ourselves, for war, for death and destruction and became conscientious and empathetic?

Can you see it?

*These views do not represent any of the organizations aforementioned including West Point, the US Army, and Department of Defense. They are solely and exclusively those of the author. 

Published by Matt Malcom

Author. Speaker. Activist.

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